One Divorce Reality

MTV's Life of Ryan stars 17-year-old professional skateboarder, Ryan Sheckler. Ryan is handsome and sweet and good at his sport, which makes the show interesting to teen viewers. He is also a child of a recent divorce, which has made the show interesting for me. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this series is a "must see" for anyone working with families around divorce (perhaps even for parents who are going through divorce).

When the audience is first introduced to Ryan, his two younger brothers (age 15 and 8), his mom, and his Dad, we quickly learn that his parents have been divorced for less than a year. The children reside primarily with their mother but spend time with their dad also. They must navigate birthdays and holidays including Christmas with this new family configuration. A portion of each episode focuses on the important role Ryan's Dad has played in his life (through childhood videos and Ryan's voice-over narrative). Everyone is struggling with "moving on." The show explores the implication that has for both parents around dating, and subsequent consequences for the kids.

It is hard not to recognize the ways in which the kids, particularly Ryan, the oldest, are often put in the position of caring emotionally for one or both parents. Ryan struggles to be a "normal" kid, not just within the context of being a professional skateboarder and the resulting pressures that surround him, but also because he a huge heart. Ryan wants to fill the hole that the divorce has left within the family: to be a support to his mom, a father figure to his younger brothers, and perhaps most intensely, to make his dad proud.

The Life of Ryan is one slice of one family at one particular point in time. Hardly has a reality TV snapshot ever been more poignant or real.

By Laura L. Noah
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Update: This program is no longer on the air.